Pearl S. Buck | Critical Review by Florence Hanton Bullock

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Pearl S. Buck.
This section contains 882 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Florence Hanton Bullock

SOURCE: "Pearl Buck's Full, Rich Life," in New York Herald Tribune, November 7, 1954, sec. 6, p. 1.

In the following review, Bullock discusses the juxtaposition of Buck's life in China and her life in America.

In My Several Worlds Pearl Buck, with attractive humility and grace of spirit, gives us a step-by-step account of her pilgrim's progress, in China and the United States, from little girlhood into mature and effective womanhood. Mrs. Buck's writings have had a wide and enthusiastic acceptance and her literary honors include the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. But it becomes evident in My Several Worlds that all the novels, biographies and other more obviously purposeful volumes that she has turned out over the years have been but the season-to-season fruit of her development as a woman and a human being. "Life," she says, "must be lived full tilt for its own sake before it becomes material for a novel." Seventeen years of close association with the Chinese peasants—whom she profoundly loves and admires, and whose humor, wisdom, philosophical acceptance of life she has made essentially her own—went into The Good Earth. Yet the actual writing of that long, full, immensely rich novel took but three months.

Born in West Virginia, into a family rich in the traditions of the ministry and teaching—her father was "a severe man of God and a missionary"—Pearl Sydenstricker was transplanted early to China, and put down deep roots into that "old and sophisticated" civilization. Her parents, loyal to their spiritual insights and democratic principles, refused to live—as most missionary families lived—within the shelter of a white man's compound, and their small daughter's earliest—often her only—friends were the children of their Chinese neighbors whom she loved and accepted, as they accepted her in spite of her white skin and golden hair. So it was a rude shock to an affectionate eight-year-old when the growing hostility against "foreign devils" in the days just preceding the Boxer Rebellion alienated her from her playmates. Pearl's mother explained that her friends had not ceased to love her: they were merely afraid to be seen playing with her. And her father made it clear that he did not blame the Chinese for resenting the arrogance of the white men toward them in their own country.

The lesson was well learned. For during half a lifetime spent in China, as a child, as the wife of a man who was trying, without too much success, to teach Western methods of farming to the peasants, and as a teacher in the Chinese University in Nanking when that city was Chiang Kai-shek's bloody capital, Mrs. Buck suffered both danger and loss from looting, murdering anti-Western mobs. But she was always able to accept with genuine sympathy the point of view of the Chinese. "As a child I had watched so often the Chinese bearers trembling under the weight of too-heavy loads carried up from the English ships in port … I was troubled because the load was too heavy and the white man did not care that it was … and that trouble has followed me all the days of my life." In My Several Worlds, without bitterness and with only a sorrowful regret, Mrs. Buck points out the mistakes that the white man has made which have led to a divided world in which the Chinese who are, basically, she thinks, so much like ourselves, are not on our side but against us.

How successfully was such a woman able to transplant herself into the United States of the 1930's? "Roots," she says, "must be put down if one is to live." After a few months spent floundering about among the literati in Manhattan—she had dinner a deux with Alexander Woollcott at Wit's End, and Chris Morley took her to her first speakeasy, which she hated—she consciously and deliberately took steps which any social psychologist would approve: she bought herself an old house in a part of the country where her forefathers had lived, and settled into it. She began to study—and grow deeply fond of—her fellow Americans and some, at least, of their ways. The American pattern, she thinks, is to be patternless. She finds us "wonderful in emergency … a generous, impulsive, emotional people, unstable, not only from nature but from environment…. The years are rich with living, but life does not flow in a river as it did in China."

She speaks out frankly about several matters of interest to Americans: our way of rearing our children, of which she does not greatly approve and (angrily) of the obstructive methods of social workers in the adoption of children. (She and her husband rejoice now in a whole houseful of much-loved adopted children.) And she has wise words to say about divorces, including her own.

Mrs. Buck's great fecundity as a writer has resulted, it seems to me, from her wonderful faculty for participation, imaginative and actual, plus an unusual feeling for beauty and meanings, and a remarkable capacity for retaining her vivid impressions.

My Several Worlds has a deep humanity. For Mrs. Buck's approach to life—and writing—is one of rich and loving tenderness quite untinctured with sentimentality. And her basic creed runs through every line she writes.

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This section contains 882 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Florence Hanton Bullock
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